Until she was 32, my sister only owned one car, the 1992 Honda Civic Hatchback she received brand new as a 16 year old and she then drove until the wheels just about fell off.
During those same 16 years (and I was only driving during 13 of those years), I owned five (yes five) vehicles.
I had no intention of being a car polygamist. But each of my vehicles had something special to offer me. I didn't want to cheat on my vehicular loves, but sometimes it just happened. Like when one of them got smashed to a pulp (more on that with Part 3, The Civic). So, despite being mechanically dis-inclined and frugal by nature, I have been in the position to buy, haggle over, repair, kick in frustration, and say goodbye to five different cars. This is their story:
1. The Volkswagen Beetle
It all started with this little beauty. I've been a fan of the old style Volkswagens since before Bumblebee transformed into a robot. (I'm sorry, but Bumblebee simply is not a yellow Camaro. Who heard of a bad-ass car like a Camaro being called Bumblebee? That's a name for a car that's also known for emitting an alarming number of clowns).
When I was 12 or 13, I started saving for a Volkswagen of my very own. (Apparently, I was somewhat insufferable. A common conversation would go thusly: "Let's go to the movies," I'd say. "That sounds fun," my unsuspecting parent or sibling would respond. "But you have to pay," I'd add. "I'm saving for a car.") By the time I was 16, I had saved just over $3000, which was enough to purchase my first car, which I named Fenchurch Audrey Volkswagen. (See? Insufferable.)
My parents were thrilled that I was so interested in this car. They thought it would help me to become more mechanical. And truly, the car's engine couldn't be simpler. Once, when a belt came off of a something-or-other on my way to school, making my approach to Owings Mills High even louder than my usual "wake-the-dead" put-put-putting, I was able to stick that bad boy back on without even mussing my clothes. But the problem with the plan of me becoming more mechanical was my complete and utter lack of interest.
Herein lies the difference between my husband and me. His first car was also a Volkswagen Beetle. He bought it for a lot cheaper than I purchased mine because his was completely beat up, and he proceeded to spend several weekends putting the thing back into working order so that he would have wheels for his date to Homecoming with a young lady. (The young lady in question was rather less than impressed with their chariot for the evening, whereas I would have been thrilled beyond belief. The Virginia Vehicle Emissions Inspection folks were also less than impressed with his work, but that's a side matter.)
I owned my dear VW for just about a year, driving the tiny tin can through snow and ice of at least 0.025 inches (anything more than that grounded her for a few days), using a window scraper on the interior of the windshield on cold days (since the heat/windshield defogger was less than ideal), running completely out of gas on at least one occasion (since it was pre-cell phones, I had to go to the nearest house to call for help), earning extra credit on a Physics exam (Mr. Mose was so impressed with my vehicular choice which he had just seen that same day that I got an A- when by my calculations I had only earned a B+), and getting smiles and waves from all around when I drove my little ray of sunshine down the road (elementary school children on busses particularly love us).
Unfortunately, those were just the good times. Baby (as I called her, since who on Earth would call a car Fenchurch?) had mechanical problems on top of mechanical problems. The alternator went out. The transmission was wiggy, so I couldn't always trust that any particular gear (and there were only 4) would work. Brakes and tires and other necessary aspects of the car left something to be desired. Despite the parental hope that I would learn to become a grease monkey in order to take care of this car, I ended up putting it in the shop over and over, using up whatever other money I had for car care.
Just before I started my senior year in high school, I called uncle on Baby. I simply couldn't afford to keep the car that I loved on the road, and I didn't have the inclination to learn how to do it on my own. So the dear VW was garaged (in the same way that older dogs are sent to live on a farm) and I had to move onto my next vehicle. A little part of me died. There's just nothing like your first love. I still have a little sadness in my heart that I wasn't able to be mechanic enough for her, despite the fact that there was nothing remotely practical about driving a 1972 Super Beetle in 1995.
With my next car, I started my love affair with reliability. No, my next ride wasn't as flashy or sexy as a broken down Volkswagen Beetle painted bright yellow, but it certainly did offer the long term security and warmth that every 17-year-old driver is looking for.
Tomorrow, I will tell the story of my first reliable car: a 1996 Chevrolet Cavalier. (And no, I'm not joking).